Friday, September 30, 2011

Pain de Provence

On my sourdough starter's fifth birthday (I should really give it a name if I'm going to be talking about it this much, shouldn't I? Any suggestions?), I finally used it to bake bread.

Here's how it looked when I uncovered it to get started:

Day 5

As you can see, there was a lot less Hooch on top, which I was happy to see. I felt like I was doing something wrong with it producing so much. The consistency was still that of very thick pancake batter, but that's pretty much what we're going for.

I chose not to do a plain, basic sourdough just because I wanted something a little more exciting. The recipe I used was from my collection from school, so the ingredient amounts are in weight (sorry about that). I really love the addition of herbs to bread doughs though; it makes them so yummy and savory.

After I removed the amount of starter I needed, I replaced it with double the amount of flour and warm water (so if you remove a cup of starter, add back a cup each of water and flour), stirring to incorporate. I then wrapped it loosely in plastic and put it in the fridge for long-term storage.

Thanks to the bread hook for my mixer, kneading the dough was a breeze. I know all bread recipes tell you how long you should knead bread, and that's definitely a good guideline, but what you really want to do is check for a window.

Wait, what the wha?

Ok, if you're not into bread baking just skip down and look at all the pretty pictures of the dough rising because this will sound a little crazy and strange. Pulling a window is a way to test if your dough is done kneading and ready to start rising. With slightly greased fingers, pull off a little section of your dough. Avoid the dough hook or you'll lose those fingers. Kidding; turn the machine off. Hold that little piece of dough up to the light (perhaps a...window? What, too far?) and stretch it gently. If it pulls right apart, it's not ready yet. Keep kneading. But, if you can stretch it GENTLY so that it becomes very thin (thin enough that you can see light through about an inch of it) BEFORE it tears, the gluten has developed fully and you're ready to let the dough rise.

*Crickets, crickets*

Look! Dough!

In a nicely oiled bowl. Another tip: if you're covering your dough with plastic wrap (which I recommend rather than a dishtowel), spray the underside of the plastic with non-stick spray so your dough won't stick to it.

And 45 minutes later, BOOM

It's rising. Time to beat it up a little. Show it who's boss. But first, do yourself a favor and oil your hand. I didn't. I regretted it.

Another 45 minutes and wah la!

Now, turn this dough out onto a floured board. This dough is a little sticky. Don't be shy with the flour.

Cut it in half. Yes, cut it! Don't pull it. You'll tear all those gluten strands apart. Use a scale if you want to be fancy. And even. And precise. Or just wing it. Totally cool too.

Shape each into a puffy ball. I just love the way yeasted dough feels in your hands. So puffy! Let these proof for another 10 minutes.

You don't need a fancy french silpat. You can totes use parchment paper. Or just lots of Pam.

Now, silly me. I decided these were going to expand so much in the oven, that I decided they couldn't share a sheet pan. So I transferred one to another sheet pan. Then, and here's the fatal flaw, I didn't let it rise again. I just slashed it a few times and sprayed it with water, and popped it in the oven.

You see the problem was that as I moved the dough, I deflated it (just like when you punch it down as it's rising). I should have let it rise again before I baked it, but I didn't. So I got one lovely round loaf. And one sort of sad, flat one.


Be sure to let your bread cool completely before you cut into it or put it away to store it. The best way to store bread is in paper, not plastic. Don't wrap it in plastic wrap (ever, really), especially if it's still warm. Wrap it in some parchment or put it in a paper grocery bag. Bread also freezes really well, in which case you can put it in a plastic bag, but make sure it's 100% cool first!

So we've made it this far and I haven't even told you how it tasted. Was all this effort even worth it? I say yes, for the smell alone that wafted into the kitchen for the 20 minutes the dough was in the oven. But also for the taste and texture, which was so fresh, and so herbacious and delicious. I'm a little disappointed to admit that I didn't really get that sour tang I was expecting from the sourdough starter. I'm thinking that may be because it was still so "young," and the more it ages, the better the flavor it imparts will be.

Good thing it's taken up residence in the back of my fridge. Any takers for a "starter sitter" if I go away on vacation in the near future?

*crickets, crickets* 

Pain de Provence
Yield: 2 loaves

300 g warm water, 105-115 degrees F
3.5 g active dry yeast or 10 g fresh compressed yeast
pinch granulated sugar
500 g bread flour
200 g sourdough starter
7-10 g salt
3 g herbes de Provence
150 g oil-cured olives, whole; green or black, pitted

1. Dissolve yeast in warm water with sugar. Once it bubbles, add flour, starter, and herbs.
2. In an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, knead dough on speed one or two for 5-7 minutes, or until the dough is close to finished kneading.
3. Add salt and continue to knead until the gluten is fully developed, another 3 minutes, or until you can pull a window. Fold olives in by hand.
4. Place dough in a well-oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Place in a warm spot (75-80 degrees F) and proof 45 minutes.
5. Punch down the dough, folding it over in the bowl to redistribute the yeast. Cover again and proof another 45 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Turn the dough onto a well-floured bowl. Cut in half. Form each piece of dough into a ball and bench rest for 5-10 minutes.
7. Shape into final loaf shape, boules or batards. Place on a sheet pan. Proof 10-15 minutes.
8. Slash the top of the dough with a sharp paring knife. Hide any exposed olives by pinching the dough over them. Spray with water.
9. Bake the loaves for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to 475 degrees F. Bake another 20-25 minutes or until golden brown, and until loaves reach an internal temperature of 210 degrees F.
10. Cool completely on a wire rack. Store at room temperature in paper.


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